St. Barlaam teaches St. Josaphat about the importance of living properly by means of a parable

Pocket Bard’s notes: This is one of the nicer stories I’ve read about why it’s important to live well in this life. The best part for me is that, even though it’s a Christian story, it could be easily adapted to just about any other religion that believes in an afterlife, or even in reincarnation. Which is fitting, I suppose, given that the story of St. Josaphat is a retelling of the story of the Buddha.

St. Barlaam teaches St. Josaphat about the importance of living properly by means of a parable
The Golden Legend, Volume II, trans. William Granger Ryan, p.361

[St. Barlaam is sent by God to teach Josaphat, the king’s son, about Christianity. He tells him many parables, including this one.]

Barlaam added still another example, which went as follows: “In a certain great city there was a custom by which a foreigner, an unknown man, was elected as prince. He was given all power to do whatever he wished, everything was allowed him, he ruled the land without any law to go by. So this man enjoyed every delight and thought that this would go on forever. But it always happened that within a year the citizens rebelled against him, dragged him naked all around the city, and then shipped him off to exile on a remote island, where he found neither food nor clothing and was beset by hunger and cold. One year, as usual, a foreigner was elected, but this man knew all about the citizens’ custom. So he sent a great store of treasure ahead to the island, and when, at the end of the year, he was exiled there, he enjoyed limitless pleasures of all kinds, while the other exiles perished from hunger. Now that city is the world, and the citizens are the princes of darkness who entice us with the world’s false pleasures. Then, while we seem to be in complete command, death supervenes, and we are plunged into the place of darkness. On the other hand, we can send riches ahead of us to the place of eternal life, by putting them now into the hands of the poor.”


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